Love is Gone: How the Timberwolves Stay Afloat Without Kevin Love

(Side note, I thought about starting to call Kevin Love “The Klove,” which by the way makes no sense after I found out that it’s an adult contemporary Christian music radio programming service. Yes, that’s right, I actually took the time out of my day to Google “klove.” Laugh it up readers, laugh it up.)

The Timberwolves run on Love. Not to say that they are a gushy team or anything, but you catch my drift. Minnesota stands on four legs. One leg, and the one holding up most of the weight, is Love. Another is Nikola Pekovic, a third is Andrei Kirilenko and a fourth, albeit in a limited role this year due to injury, is Ricky Rubio.

With Kevin Love, Minnesota is a low-seed playoff contender. Without him they are definitely on the wrong side of the number eight seed.

Just to reiterate, Minnesota was 26-40 last year. The worst record in the conference belonged to the Hornets at 21-45. Kevin Love had a win share of 10 last year. Jumble that all together and throw in some math signs + = / to make it look super educated and you get 16. 16 wins the T-Wolves would have had without their sole Olympian and biggest player since Kevin Garnett (sorry Mark Madsen.)

Granted that was last year, and this year is a whole different animal in terms of the season, but the T-Wolves are still in trouble. Kirilenko has carried the team so far, but I have serious reservations about whether he can carry a team for the 8-10 weeks that Love will be out. Let me rephrase that, he can carry a team, but can Minnesota stay competitive if he’s the “Atlas” of the team? Probably not.

The team needs something new. Whether that be a trade acquisition, like say shipping Kirilenko, Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour to Memphis for Rudy Gay. Or getting injured players healthy, and in the lineup again like Rubio and Chase Budinger.

At the end of the day, the Timberwolves aren’t going to be as good as they were with Love. It’s just not going to work. The team is built around “Klove” (that might be the last time you see that on the internet ever.)

What do you think? Will Minnesota be able to stay in contention with Kevin Love, or will they fall out of it without him and never recover? Tell me in the comments section.

The Pau Gasol Trade Machine Edition

The Lakers are struggling. If I had a dollar for every time I said or heard that then the local McDonald’s Dollar menu would be non-existent, or I’d save the boatload of money (thinks about it…) yep, definitely saving the money.

The blame game is one that has taken Los Angeles by storm in the same magnitude Lob City did. So, the blame game turned into musical chairs, and Mike Brown was left standing.

But now Mike D’Antoni is in town, and Steve Nash will be back at some point. In other Lakers firings, the team canned their entire training staff and has brought in Phoenix’s in exchange for whichever first-round pick the Lakers still hold the rights to in this Millennium. (2058, I think?)

(Ok, you got me.  I may have fibbed a little bit there.)

The point is that the Lakers are looking to change things up, and a synonym for “changing things up” is “trading.” This happens to be one of my favorite things to write about, the least favorite being draft picks, just for future reference.

With that, let’s go to the trade machine: Continue reading

What Ricky Rubio’s Injury Means for the Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio has torn his ACL and is lost for the campaign, thus ending a highlight filled season for the rookie. Rubio will certainly be missed this season in the Twin Cities for the year. (I make it sound like he got traded to some pro-am team in Winnipeg, but he didn’t. He’s just injured).

Anyways, the T-Wolves as the kids like to say, aren’t in a terrible position because of this. Yes, they lost their starting point guard, but the annual trade deadline is fast approaching, which means the Timberwolves will have time to make a move if they choose to do so.

The Timberwolves also aren’t without viable assets. Michael Beasley is somewhat of a prime trade piece. He’s been “discussed” (which means that there are more rumors than you can shake a stick at about Beasley) in deals to Boston, LA and Orlando. While dealing Beasley might derail Minnesota’s chances at a possible Pau Gasol acquisition  (he might not actually be available), it could also net them a solid replacement point guard, if they need it.

Minnesota currently has Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea on payroll. Those are two very solid options at the one spot. The immediate need might not be there, and the Timberwolves might wait to add a bought out point guard later in the season if the need persists.

Ridnour has not necessarily been used as a shooting guard, but in more of a two point guard set with Rubio. Moving him back to the point could shift Minny’s focus to a shooting guard a la Jamal Crawford or Ray Allen.

The real question that I have been skirting around with trade fodder is what Rubio’s injury really means for the Timberwolves. It means that Minnesota’s playoff chances take a hit. Whether we’re talking big hits a la casualties of the Saints bounty system (You had to think I’d mention it at some point) or whatever hilarity ensuing comment you can think of about a light hit. It’s a hit none the less. Minnesota currently trails Houston in the race for the NBA’s eight seed and would probably welcome a boost.

The injury might derail Minnesota’s season in the sense that they get into a funk afterwards and can’t recover. Or they could rally around the injury and run the gauntlet. All in all the injury will make or break the team this season.

Best Fits for Pau Gasol

This could be complete junk by the time you read this. Pau Gasol could be on a team that is not the mighty purple and gold Lakers (note the heavy sarcasm). He might be first fiddle. He might be second fiddle. Who really knows? But if Gasol is traded, certain situations and teams are probably better fits for the seven-footer. What we have heard from various media outlets and insiders in various cities and counties is that Houston and Minnesota are two teams who are interested in Gasol.

Houston’s interest in Gasol is natural seeing as they would have acquired him in the much-ballyhooed trade that was vetoed by the point-man behind the Hornets… David Stern. Houston would have surrendered Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first round pick to the Hornets while receiving Gasol. And Houston is probably still interested in Gasol. The kicker is that Chris Paul is off the board, so there won’t be any three-team swap with the assets going to the Hornets. In any deal for Gasol, the Lakers would probably like a point guard in return, because of the whole Chris Paul thing. Houston, incidentally has a very good one named Kyle Lowry. Now, whether the Rockets want to include Lowry in any deal remains to be seen. If they wanted to include him, he’d probably be a Laker and Gasol would be a Rocket. Here is the thing with Houston, Gasol would be a good fit, but at what cost?

Houston would probably have to surrender not only Lowry, but also Scola. If this is a two-for-one, LA comes away with a seven-win improvement and Houston takes a four-game hit. All per ESPN’s trade machine. This serves up the first point, does this make Houston better? Does it? Do we, or Houston for that matter, want a reincarnation of Memphis with Pau Gasol as the centerpiece of the team? Gasol is easily one of the better 20 or 30 players in the league, but I can’t see him being a team-centerpiece at this point. Houston also sacrifices their starting point guard and power forward. I know Houston is deep with youth almost everywhere, but is sacrificing Lowry worth it? As it stands Houston would be in the playoffs if they started today. So maybe they don’t need to do anything. I just think this whole thing is a bad idea. Houston is set as it is, and they don’t need a whole lot to make noise in the playoffs. They have maybe the most valuable thing in the NBA that isn’t LeBron James: a deep bench with young, fresh legs. That might be all that Houston needs.

Minnesota has also reportedly expressed interest. This one actually makes a lot of sense. A Gasol-Love post paring seems pretty formidable. Who plays the five would be up in the air, but that’s a very good duo to dump the ball into. Both can also stretch the floor with jumpers and hurt you on the low block. If you can’t tell, I’m already jumping on the imaginary bandwagon. The other pairing that would be formidable would be Gasol with his countryman Ricky Rubio, those two along with Love and Nikola Pekovic is a very good nucleus. Throw in JJ Barea and you have, as stated, a very good team. The other key with Minnesota is that the assets LA would want from Minnesota would be some combo of Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, a pick(s) and some other smaller pieces. Beasley will probably be traded in one way or another, so why not ship him to LA in a Gasol deal? Williams also goes to the Lakers with the Timberwolves not losing as much as other teams would be for dealing the number two overall pick from the previous year.

Minnesota doesn’t lose a whole lot, but would have to send salaries like Brad Miller’s and Anthony Randolph’s to Los Angeles to even it out.  The picks going to LA will be … well I’m not sure. These things tend to work themselves out. Maybe a future first rounder? Honestly I have no idea.

Teams who loaded up on assets to go after Dwight Howard might find Gasol a viable alternative, though I can’t see any one of the teams possibly interested in Howard (New Jersey, Golden State, etc.) making a run at Gasol.

So if I’m Minnesota, I make the call to LA and get the Gasol thing done if the Lakers are willing to do it.

The Orlando Magic’s Dilemma

Dwight Howard will play in Orlando at some point. Whether he is on the road team or the home squad remains to be seen.

The Magic are stuck in a rut. Dwight Howard might go somewhere else, or he might stay. The man has not made up his mind, which is terrible for the only major sports team in Orlando. If he stays, then the Magic could pursue another big name guy to pair with him. Darren Williams could be a potential fit if he leaves the Nets, ditto Chris Paul with the Clippers.

The Magic’s present and future hinge on Howard. Without him they are a mess of bad contracts and a couple decent -to-good upside guys on the roster.

Hypothetically without Howard the Magic are a complete and total mess. Think about this for a minute in terms of teams who didn’t make the playoffs-

West-

Houston Rockets

Phoenix Suns

Utah Jazz

Golden State Warriors

Los Angeles Clippers

Sacramento Kings

Minnesota Timberwolves

East-

Milwaukee Bucks

Charlotte Bobcats

Detroit Pistons

New Jersey Nets

Washington Wizards

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers

Most of those teams have some degree of young talent. Top to bottom: Houston has a ton of young lottery picks. Phoenix has a nice piece or two. Utah has an intriguing size and talent. Golden State can score now and can probably score in seven years with a lot of the same group. The Clippers have a ridiculous young nucleus. Despite the DeMarcus Cousins situation, Sacramento has some high octane guards, post talent or no. Minnesota might have the best young group going into the next couple years with an (insert exciting-like adjective here) core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams.

Out East it’s the same kind of story. Milwaukee rolls out a potentially explosive, not to mention, a potentially top-ten point guard/ center combo with Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut. Charlotte is in the same boat as Phoenix in the sense that it’s a couple of nice pieces and some veterans. Detroit has a good, young, solid point/center duo like the Bucks in Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe. New Jersey has Derron Williams and Brook Lopez, but seeing as they haven’t done diddly with a decent supporting cast, it’s tough to see them getting better with that core. The Washington Wizards have got a guy you might have heard of named John Wall (that’s probably been overused, but Wall is the best player on that team). Toronto is in the same “bunch of lottery picks, not a superstar on the team” boat. Cleveland just has Mike Conley 2.0 (Kyrie Irving) and a fan favorite (Anderson Varejao). Sell season tickets with that!

Now put a Dwight Howard-less Magic on this list. Just a refresher, this would be the Magic’s roster:

Player X who Orlando gets for Howard

Jason Richardson

Ryan Anderson

Hedo Turkoglu

Jameer Nelson

JJ Redick

Glen Davis

Daniel Orton

DeAndre Liggins

Chris Duhon

Quentin Richardon

Von Wafer

Earl Clark

Justin Harper

Larry Hughes

Let’s say that Player X is someone along the lines of Brook Lopez. Put Lopez or a DeMarcus Cousins on this team and a once 5-8 seed type team downgrades to more of a definite lottery team to a fringe playoff contender.

That and the heaps of bad contracts make for a long rebuilding process.

Now let’s say Howard stays with the Magic. You have the same exact team as above with Howard replacing Player X. That leaves the Magic in the NBA no-man’s land that is mediocrity.

It’s not as if this is the LA Clippers of a couple months back, or last year’s Knick team that started the season. This is not a team with a superstar and pieces that can be moved for another superstar. The New Jersey Nets are not going to come calling for Quentin Richardson, Von Wafer and a late first-round pick for Derron Williams. It’s simply not going to happen. The only possible trade pieces here that don’t wear number twelve are the streaking Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis. That alone isn’t going to get you a superstar.  With the way Anderson is playing the Magic will want to keep him to complement Howard.

If Dwight Howard does in fact stay there will be more Eastern Conference Semifinals and first round exits in your future Magic season ticket holders. If he does go it might be 3-5 years before it gets somewhat better.

NBA Season Predictions Western Conference

Northwest-

In the somewhat accurately named Northwest division, you have everyone’s chic pick, Oklahoma City (not mine). A rugged team that has gone through a ton of adversity, Portland. The deep team that seems built for a lockout shortened season, the Nuggets. A squad that has a lot of youth, but also a lot of veteran presence, the Utah Jazz, and a team who is looking to take their lumps in a rebuilding year, Minnesota.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder 40-26
  2. Portland Trailblazers 38-38
  3. Denver Nuggets 35-31
  4. Utah Jazz 34-32
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves 23-43

The Thinking:

Oklahoma City is going to be good, how good, I’m not sure. Kevin Durant will get his 20-30 something points per game, outside of that the starting five could have some problems. The Thunder has made the decision of going with defensive stopper Thabo Sefalosha over the more offensively gifted James Harden. This works when guarding the elite perimeter players, but offensively Thabo isn’t going to give you a lot. Throw in two defensive-minded bigs in Serge Ibalka and Kendrick Perkins, as well as Russell Westbrook’s streakiness and there’s some potential to have a terrible game on the offensive end if KD has a bad outing.

Rip City has been the subject of adversity as of late. Brandon Roy was forced to retire due to his knees. Greg Oden’s status is still up in the air. But Portland has rebounded in one of the better ways possible. They replaced Roy with fellow Seattle area native Jamal Crawford, and added frontcourt depth with Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas. The Blazers also swapped Andre Miller for Raymond Felton, which looks genius from a lot of different standpoints. Throw in those additions with guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Mathews and Gerald Wallace. I’m telling you, Portland is going to be good.

Carmelo Anthony is gone. And quite frankly, Denver seems to have moved on just fine. The Nuggets have taken the identity of a team who can play a lot of guys and still score deep on the bench. Denver is very deep in most positions and can beat you in a number of ways. The Nuggets could be a problem come playoff time because of their depth.

Utah is a curious team. Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Raja Bell and Josh Howard form a nice veteran core for the Jazz. On the flipside they have a talented young nucleus in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. If the now Jerry-Sloan-less Jazz can find a good mix of intriguing vets and youth, it’s there in Salt Lake City. If they can’t find a good mix, it might be a long year and other teams will come calling for guys like Millsap, Bell and Howard.

Minnesota will be fun to watch. Not on par with Lob City, but a core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Michael Beasley  and Derrick Williams will excite. The future is there in the Twin Cities, but the present might be filled with growing pains and turnovers.

Pacific-

The California/Phoenix division is going to be fun. In LA especially, Chris Paul will lead the league in Alley-Oop passes, Kobe Bryant will lead the league in… something — you pick. Lamar Odom is out of tinsel-town for the first time in a while. His replacement is the one and only Josh McRoberts. Yes that’s right, the reigning sixth man of the year was, and is replaced by McBobs. Golden State meanwhile is ushering in the Marc Jackson era with a new found attempt at being a defensive team. I’m not messing with you. A team with a starting lineup that includes Monta Ellis, David Lee and Stephen Curry is focusing on defense. We go from one run-and-gun (though they don’t want to show it) to another in the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have Steve Nash, and if they ever lose Nash for an extended amount of time, it could be a problem. We’re talking major problems. I guess Sacramento is the same kind of team, same mold, as the last two teams listed. They are going to run, they are going to gun and a good deal of the time, they will brick. This is a team with some good players with young talents like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins (it would probably serve them to draft strictly John Calipari guys going forward).  Throw in the Jimmer and there’s some potential for some big highlights, but also some big time bricks. The Clips might be Lob City, while the Kings might be Brick City.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Los Angeles Lakers 36-30
  2. Los Angeles Clippers 34-32
  3. Golden State Warriors 31-35
  4. Phoenix Suns 30-36
  5. Sacramento Kings 19-47

The Thinking:

The Lakers could very well finish fumbling down the stretch if Kobe gets banged up. It’s already a three man squad to begin with, with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. There isn’t much else to be pumped up about on the bench or in the rest of the starting lineup. You’ve got nice pieces in McBobs and Steve Blake. Outside of that it’s newly dubbed Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher, Gerald Green and Luke Walton. Yikes.

The laughing stock isn’t necessarily the joke it used to be. If you have lived under a rock for the last couple months you’ve missed that A, we have basketball again, but B, the Clippers are relevant again. When I say relevant, I’m not saying a title is a distinct possibility this season, but a ring certainly isn’t out of the question in the next couple of years if a couple things go as planned. One, CP3 resigns. This is the key. Pair him with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan going forward, and there’s going to be some dunks and points scored. Two is that Blake Griffin resigns long term as well. They’ve locked up Jordan. Now they just need the other two to resign and they are golden. Oh yeah, did I mention that they brought in some guy named Chauncey Billups as well? The Playoffs this year are certainly not out of reach for the Clippers.

Tell me if you notice a theme here. Monta Ellis, strength: offense. Stephen Curry, strength: offense. David Lee, strength: offense. Klay Thompson, strength: offense. Ditto Brandon Rush and Dorrell Wright. Did I mention that new coach Marc Jackson wants to be a defensive team? Confusing, I know. There will be some growing pains in the bay area this year. Don’t be completely shell-shocked if they sneak in as an 8 seed with all the unrest out West.

Welcome to Brick City! Yes, that’s what signs should read all over the capitol of California. Jimmer will make some shots that make people go Google BYU and see how they are flopping in WCC this year. Other than clicks for ESPN’s BYU page, Sacramento won’t accomplish much. And I’m serious about the whole only drafting Calipari players.

Southwest-

The real up and comers out west, the Grizzlies,(that’s right Thunder) are looking to rebound on a solid season last year in which they surprised a lot of people. Not to mention without Rudy Gay, lots to like in Memphis. Then there are the defending champs, the Dallas Mavericks. Excuse Shawn Marion’s blonde hair, I’m not disrespecting Dallas. I still think they are a likely 1-3 seed come playoff time, and I really like the Delonte West signing. A repeat is not completely obnoxious to think about. Following them down the line are the Spurs, who because of the lockout will likely give up some games to rest their Big 3 for the playoffs. Big if here, but if Houston’s clustered roster of former lottery picks plays up to the hype that made them lottery picks, then Houston could be a thorn in some higher seeded team’s side come playoff time. Then there are the Hornets who are just begging to be moved to Seattle (again had to throw a Stern jab in there), and are subsequently owned by the league. But the rebuilding process is under way in NOLA and it’s not too bad of an outlook for the Hornets.

Predicted Finish-

  1.  Dallas Mavericks 43-23
  2. Memphis Grizzlies 40-26
  3. San Antonio Spurs 37-29
  4. Houston Rockets 33-33
  5. New Orleans Hornets 22-44

The Thinking:

The Mavs will be relevant again after their title run last year. They could very well go to the Finals once again because of all the uncertainty in their very own conference. Dallas added some nice pieces (Lamar Odom, West) and lost some pieces that were extremely important to them (Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea). The regular season will likely end in a playoff berth, that much is probably true, because the Mavs are too good not to make it. The key for Dallas will be Brendan Haywood. If he plays more like Tyson Chandler than himself (another big if) then Dallas could repeat, if not, the ring ceremony on opening night might be their highlight of the year.

Memphis is the up and comer. None of the OKC business, the Grizzlies are for real. They have no glaring needs anywhere and are a complete team that can hurt you in a number of ways. Not just one, (cough: Kevin Durant) while the phrase “a lot to like” has been used probably a little more than anyone would like in this column/piece, there is a lot to like for the Grizz.

The Spurs are going to succumb to the shortened season by sitting their Big 3 on some nights for rest. Or entire road trips for that matter. The Spurs will make the playoffs, and if proper rest is used accordingly, this team could be dangerous come playoff time. (Again another overused phrase, but just roll with it.)

Kevin McHale has somewhat of a curious team in Houston. The Rockets are rich with former lottery picks, so the “rebuilding” tag is a hard sell at this point. Houston’s basketball team might be stuck in NBA no-man’s land:  middle of the pack. Like I previously said, if they play up to the potential that made them lottery picks. Watch out. (Yet another overused statement that likely is being burned out of my mental dictionary/word-bank as we speak due to over usage.)

The Seattle Sonics… Oops sorry the New Orleans Hornets, have a difficult season ahead of themselves this year. One, they just lost their starting point-guard and face-of-the-franchise: Chris Paul. And two, they have the second worst owner in the league: (only to every northwesterner’s favorite sports figure, notice the heavy sarcasm, Clay Bennett) David Stern. Plus they don’t really have ownership at all seeing as the league still owns the team (a point I can’t state enough). It might be tough in NOLA. (Yes, I just used NOLA more times than New Orleans.)

If all that becomes somewhat of a reality the playoffs would then look like this in the west:

1 Dallas Mavericks vs 8 Utah Jazz

2 Memphis Grizzlies vs 7 Los Angeles Clippers

3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6 San Antonio Spurs

4 Portland Trailblazers vs  5 Los Angeles Lakers

I don’t see a whole lot changing here. With the exception of a Steve Nash miracle (not out of the question) the playoff picture probably looks something like this:

1 Dallas Mavericks vs 8 Phoenix Suns

2 Memphis Grizzlies vs 7 Los Angeles Clippers

3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6 San Antonio Spurs

4 Portland Trailblazers vs  5 Los Angeles Lakers

Chris Paul is Going to the Clippers (and the Fit the Lakers Will Throw)

The Chris Paul saga has ended. And while the term “saga” has been used for a lot of fiascos and ongoing events, this one actually fit the definition of a saga:  A series of events or a story stretching over a long period (or so says dictionary.com). We had the vetoed Lakers-Rockets deal, the trade the Clippers pulled out of and the trade the Clippers actually made.

Paul will obviously be playing in LA. On the Hornets side of things they got a guy who could be more of a dynamic scoring threat than he already is (Eric Gordon). They also acquired a guy with a ton of upside in Al Farouq Aminu, a borderline All-Star in Chris Kaman and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first round pick.

Minnesota’s first rounder could end up not being the number one overall pick that everyone thinks it will be. While it’s probably a lottery pick, people have to remember that Minnesota has some talent. Kevin Love is ridiculous on the boards. Guards  Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea can fill it up along with former number two overall pick Michael Beasley. That, combined with the lottery, could sink the chances for a number one overall selection. The draft is going to be extremely deep this year, and the lottery will be the crème of the crop.

So that’s the Hornets coming away with an extremely legit shooting guard in Eric Gordon. Kaman, who could be moved for more pieces and picks, is even more of a trade piece than usual because of his expiring contract and high level of play. Farouq Aminu still has a high ceiling and will contribute to the team. You throw in Aminu and Gordon with two lottery picks in a stacked draft, and it means two potentially good to superstar type players.

On the flipside you have Chris Paul lining up with Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as a starting five. Follow that up with Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes off the bench. Add on a potential to bring in another big guy, which they need, and you have the potential to be really, really good long term.

On the flip-flip-side there are the Lakers. The Lakers not only lost out on Chris Paul, but lost one of their key players in the process: Lamar Odom. Throw in that with his replacement, none other than Josh McRoberts (not a bad player at all, just not Odom), and you have all the ingredients for a dismal year.

To be honest, at this point a dismal year for the Lakers is probably a loss in the conference semifinals like last year. The Lakers could be faced with the realization that not only the Clippers could be better in the long term, but also that the Lakers could be on the short end of the stick in the present. Another realization that could come to fruition is that this could be the eventual downfall of the Kobe Bryant era. Pau Gasol could be shipped out to either get Dwight Howard, or pieces for him. Ditto Andrew Bynum. If Gasol goes and Howard isn’t on the plane back to LA then we might see a string of seasons somewhere in the no man’s land that is first-round playoff losses that could happen until Kobe eventually retires (yes that will happen at some point in time Lakers fans).

Because of this the Lakers probably will throw a behind-the-scenes temper tantrum at the League and David Stern after getting their own Chris Paul deal nixed and then seeing him head to their constant-butt-of-jokes-cross-arena-more-of-a-punching-bag-than-rival-Clippers. It may surprise you, or it may not, but at season’s end the better team is probably going to be the punching bag.